Pezze e Piselli

Pezze e Piselli, by Briana Elizabeth

I am big on plans. I’m not big on following them to the letter of the law, but I do think they help us aim well, and that’s the most important thing. If you’ve followed us for any amount of time, you know I love a good Bullet Journal. Why? It’s inexpensive, it doesn’t need battery backup, you can’t lose it in a crash (my iMac recently crashed, and we had to wipe it. I did not have an external hard drive for backup, alas). You can set it on fire, but that’s another post. (I do have friends who set theirs aflame after the year is done as a marker of a new year to come and a goodbye to the last. An interesting way to mark time, no?)

Anyway, that time is upon us. If you’ve put off planning, don’t worry, you can still write a few things down to order your mind and days.

Here are some links I collected for you.

Why Bullet Journaling works.  How a Bullet Journal might work for you.  An interesting way of prioritizing our work.  How the Ivy Lee method is working for Jen of Viking Academy.  Jen from Wildflowers and Marbles has free printables to help you organize. She also has a page specifically for planning, with printables, helps, and ideas to help your year go  more smoothly.

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If you’re setting up a seasonal table for your littles and picking books for a Morning Basket, here are a few wonderful titles with lovely illustrations. The Year at Maple Hill Farm  and Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm both by Alice and Martin Provensen.
I loved this beeswax snail tutorial from Frontier Dreams and this felted pumpkin from Hinterland Mama. For olders, one of my favorites is always A View from the Oak. And you really must follow Lynn on Exploring Nature with Children because her watercolor journaling videos are so encouraging and beautiful.

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For older kids, this time of year is harder – at least at my house. Marching band camp is over, practices have started, football is all over my schedule, and choir is starting back up, which leads me back up to the bullet journaling in the beginning of the post. It keeps my head on straight and my people fed. The days of morning baskets and nature tables are long over at my house, and I miss them, but these older student days are so filled with new and beautiful things. I am trying to hold onto afternoon reading this year, but this may be the year we bid a fond farewell to that also. Older children…they have to be given their own leisure time. Time to build, discover, learn in very different ways than the younger children. It’s also a quieter time because they need their privacy about studies and accomplishments. Finding the balance is tricky and a daily tension, but growing like this is a part of being a homeschool parent.

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Happy Schooling, all.


Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

 

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Organization

Scheduling: How to Pull It All Together, by Jen N.

I purchased grade level sets for most of my main curriculum for the last two school years. This year I’m mostly on my own. I inherited a plethora of books from my mom who is a newly retired schoolteacher. Coincidentally, her school covers American history in fifth grade, as we do. If you are a planning junkie like I am, take a minute and let the serendipity of my luck wash over you. Usually, I’d have used the library for all these books. We may even take two years to get through them. I haven’t quite decided yet.

I had a moment of panic when I thought about scheduling all of it, though. That’s a LOT of books. Then I settled down with a caffeinated drink, a snack, and everything in a big mound on the floor surrounding me like the book hoarder I am.

I’m going to attempt to break down the steps for you in a more civilized way.

Gather:

  • A notebook/plan book/bullet journal – whatever you’ll be using to record your ideas. There are also great digital planners available if you like that sort of thing.
  • Your daily To Do list – what subjects do you want to cover on what days? Keep in mind any outside-the-home obligations. Don’t schedule a big academic day on errand day.
  • A list of materials and books for the year. I highly suggest writing a list and dividing into must-haves and extras. If you are using the library, try to write the list in order so that you can schedule those interlibrary loans on time.

Review:
Review your calendar and your To Do lists. I like to start with blocking off all our planned vacation time so that we know how many weeks we’ll be working.

Analyze:
Think about last year. What got done and what didn’t?

Think:
What amount of progress are you shooting for? I like to take this subject by subject and know my objectives for the year. For example: in geography, I’d like my student to have mastered the states and capitals both as recitation and finding them on a map.

Ask:
In thinking about the big picture: with the results you are looking for in mind, what do you need to accomplish daily to get there?  This is where I try to be very honest with myself about how much work we can really do daily. It’s tempting to knit three math programs together, but that may not be realistic or fit with your big picture goals. I would rather add to a schedule later then have to drop subjects after a few weeks.

Re-prioritize:
Make a new list that reflects these priorities and strips away anything unnecessary.

Decide:
Schedule the core classes first. Make blocks of time devoted to those truly important things.

You may want a traditional schedule with subjects spread out over the week.

Block scheduling works well for some families. We do daily items in the morning and make subjects like science, history, and geography blocks where we work for entire afternoons on one topic.

Loop scheduling prioritizes certain subjects, and after you’ve ranked them, your schedule only loops through them circuitously.

Execute:
Commit to one month of working this schedule before you start tweaking it. The first month of school can be rocky; don’t take it out on the schedule. Let it play out a bit. We homeschoolers are always learning at home, but any extended break tends to affect our work ethic. Give yourselves time to settle in before flipping things around.

You’ve got a big pile of textbooks and a clear plan book – now what?

Check the publisher’s website and see if they have a suggested schedule. If so, all you need to do is plug that into your plan. If not, then you can take the number of lessons or chapters and divide it out by how many school weeks you have and then by the number of days per week that you’ll study that subject.

Here is my grade school plan for this year:

Daily – Math, Latin, and Literature in the mornings.

Block afternoon schedule –

  • Monday: History
  • Tuesday: Geography
  • Wednesday: Science
  • Thursday: Writing
  • Friday: Art/Music

My high school student usually plans herself and works late into the night. I meet with her as needed to keep things in check. I made a blueprint for her four years, and as we complete subjects, we check them off.

That about covers it. Do you have more questions? Hit us up over at Sandbox to Socrates. We have about a million years of collective experience and can get you sorted in no time.

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Jen N. Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she lives in a world of fandoms. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and reviews books at  www.recreationalscholar.wordpress.com

Education is a Life

The Panicked Feeling of Being Behind, by Lynne

Every year, about this time in May, I start to feel a little panicked because THERE’S NO WAY WE’RE GOING TO FINISH ALL MY PLANS!!!

I’ve been homeschooling for six years, and I still have the mentality that we must accomplish a certain amount of work in the same time frame as the traditional school year. I’m unsure why this is.  We have regulations in my state, but nothing that requires me to follow the same schedule as the local schools. No one is going to come knocking on my door to see if we covered the entire biology book from September to May.

For the past two years, I’ve really tried to let go of the idea that we have to finish certain curricula in a nine-month timeframe.  We’ve carried math, science, grammar, and history over into the next “school year.”  And nothing bad happened.  In fact, we’ve been able to get a lot more out of each subject by taking our time and not hurrying through just so we could tick a box on our list of accomplishments.

So, why do I still feel that panic?  I think my own traditional schooling has ingrained the traditional school year into my being.  Posts on social media from friends with kids in traditional school add to it as well.  When I start seeing Field Day posts and school trips to the Zoo, I think, “It’s the end of the year!”  Then I realize we are only halfway through that book on African and Middle Eastern history in the Middle Ages, and my brain instinctively screams that “WE ARE BEHIND!”

Behind what?

That’s a good question.

I don’t follow anything at all like the scope and sequence of the local schools, so I just have to remind my brain that everything is fine, and we’ll finish the book when we finish the book. Did I want to finish the math book by May?  Well, yes, I actually did, but does my son thoroughly understand the math by taking it a little more slowly?  Of course, he does.  It’s fine. All in due time.

Not only do I get panicked about the traditional school year, but I also have high school looming over my head.  My soon-to-be-7th and -8th graders do not seem to be fully prepared for high school level work.  Maybe they will be by then; maybe they won’t.  I’m trying very hard not to panic about that, as well.  I tell myself that they’ve come a long way in the last six years, so the next five should show major improvements.  And anyway, there is no law that says a kid has to go to college at age 18.  If they don’t feel ready to graduate from high school, they can spend an extra year or two working on things.  I don’t think it will come to that, but it’s always an option. (Or a secret dream of mine to keep them home longer.  Shhh.  Don’t tell.)


Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for over 5 years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.

Summer fun

When Is It Over? How Do We Bring Our School Year to an End, by Cheryl

Comment on any of our posts this week, and you will be entered in a drawing to win a free Boogie Board writing tablet!  

Our school year runs from the first of August to the end of July. My kids get a school “end date” in mid-May. If we have done school on every day I had planned, we should have completed our 180 days by that point. But illness and unplanned days off mean we may be a few days short. We still stop formal school on that date.

In mid-May my oldest stops doing math, history, grammar, Latin, Greek, and writing. He has usually finished most of those subjects well before we hit 180 days. My younger student gets to stop grammar, Latin, and handwriting. She continues to do math and reading two days a week all summer. Both kids, however, get to move up a “grade,” which is virtually meaningless within the context of our school work but is important to them.

What neither of them realizes is that they get as much “school-time” in the summer as they do the rest of the year. They both do musical theatre, art, and other camps. We do science experiments, art projects, read good literature, and go on field trips. I use all of these activities to make up for any sick days we may have had during the school year. By the end of July, we have our 180 days completed.

So, school never really ends; it just gets more relaxed.

We try to celebrate the end of the school year in some way in May. We may go to lunch somewhere special, go bowling, have a picnic in the park, or any other fun activity the kids request – one year it was snow cones.

I don’t think there can ever be an end to the school year when you homeschool. There is no real change. Your kids are still home with you all day every day and they still need things to do. I used to worry about ending our year, but the longer we homeschool, the less important that ending date seems to be. To me at least. My kids still want to know when school is over!

Don’t forget – Comment on any of our posts this week, and you will be entered in a drawing to win a free Boogie Board writing tablet!  

Image courtesy of freeimages.com

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Organization

Throwback Thursday: Keeping Records Through Middle School, by Angela Berkeley

Every so often we like to re-run one of our more popular posts from the past.  This first ran on July 4, 2014 as part of our Classical Foundations series.  Enjoy!

Homeschooling elementary students is a somewhat daunting yet very exciting process.  Having selected a classical education philosophy, you assemble your teaching aids, materials, and curricula. You feel like you’re all ready to start. But then you realize that you also face a somewhat crumpling question: How will you know whether you’re teaching successfully? How will you evaluate your child? How much is ‘enough’? How will you know?

The responsibility is yours. You can’t fall back on anyone else. You’re the teacher. You’re the evaluator. You’re the assessor of whether reasonable progress is being made. And frankly, after the hard work of figuring out your teaching philosophy, studying up on curricula or other materials, finding out how to register with the state properly, it almost seems like too much. It’s a bit daunting. It almost makes you want to fall back on ‘school in a box’—a program that has textbooks for all subjects needed for one entire grade. Then you will know that there are no gaps, right? Then you will know that your child is on grade level.

But wait.

Classical education is different. Our standards for assessing grade level are to be age appropriate and focused on each child’s individual capabilities. Marching your child through standard classroom material in the 180 days of a standard school year schedule really gives up a great deal of the available benefits of homeschooling. Being inflexible does nothing to customize your child’s learning to her unique abilities. It does not permit letting her spring ahead in composition compared with spelling, for instance. It does not allow the significant advantage of being able to take family vacations and field trips away from the school crowds during the school year. It doesn’t let you catch up or leap ahead in math over the summer or enjoy full days out in wild parks during the week or take three weeks off at Christmas time and thoroughly enjoy the holidays. It leaves no room for a four-week focus on writing a novel, complete with character development, dialogue, and imaginative development; or to coordinate your science studies with your Lego robotics projects. In short, it gives up too much for too little—for that bit of security based on norming your child to be like every other child of the same age.

By nature, classical homeschooling takes a far different approach to learning than typical public school curricula. It focuses on learning about the whole world, from the very start. It teaches reading, writing, and other language arts from a very different perspective than public schools—emphasizing massive amounts of personal and read-aloud literature, history, and science. It avoids busy work so completely that it empowers children to recognize and resist it forever. It uses copywork and grammar as well as composition to teach writing skills. Science is taught in depth; experiments and field trips are more important than book work at the early stages. Summarization, outlining, conversation, and thesis formation are taught gradually across all subject areas and lead naturally to being able to formulate and convey effective argumentation. (This is a mixed blessing in the high school years, but I digress…)

Naturally this means that children being taught in a classical manner are not necessarily going to be learning the same strategies and ways of organizing information that public school children do. Or they will learn strategies at different ages than public schoolers, due to a combination of the different sequencing of learning in a classical education and the opportunities for customized progress that homeschooling offers.

Really, though, there is no need for concern about these issues when you’re first getting started, if you take a few basic steps to eliminate these questions. First, make a commitment to homeschool long enough for your child’s learning to converge with public school learning. Generally by around 3rd or 4th grade, the various approaches result in consistently similar results from a testing standpoint. Of course, in addition to the typically tested skills, the classically-homeschooled child has had considerably more experience in science experimentation, more exposure to world history, and a lot more opportunities to investigate a broad range of their own interests.

Secondly, commit to teaching to the point of mastery, and don’t worry about assigning letter or numerical grades through at least 6th grade. Grades are used to assess progress and compare children with each other, by teachers who are teaching an entire classroom full of children. You don’t need to compare your child with others, and you know whether she is learning the material or not, so assigning grades is largely a useless exercise unless and until you need them for an application to a brick and mortar school. If your child is going to homeschool through high school, start assigning grades in 8th grade. If she is going to homeschool through middle school only and needs a transcript to apply for a private high school, find the high school application materials (usually available on their websites) and start assigning grades in the first year that is required on the applications. Many homeschoolers who place their children into public high schools find that they simply need to discuss math and/or honors placement with the high school counseling staff and don’t need to assign middle school grades at all.

Thirdly, establish a routine, and establish minimum weekly progress as an ongoing benchmark. While some use a minute by minute schedule, a routine is effective (and less onerous) for many. What kind of routine? I suggest distinguishing skills from content, and teaching skills every morning and content in the afternoons as much as possible. Skills are things like reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic. Content areas include history and science. Our ‘typical day’ included a religion lesson first thing, followed by either a lesson in reading skills acquisition or arithmetic, whichever was currently more difficult, followed by the other, and then followed by other aspects of language arts—copywork, editing practice, reading aloud, discussing, and summarizing reading, spelling, etc. Science, history, literature, art, music, foreign language, etc. were taught in the afternoons, and not all of them were taught every day. A reasonable schedule for a week might include 5 math lessons, 4 grammar lessons, 4 copywork episodes, 4 literature lessons, 3 spelling episodes, a foreign language lesson and 2 practices, 2 history lessons, a music lesson, and 2 science lessons. So you would call a week ‘done’ when those were finished, and exceed those quantities most weeks, but also have the flexibility to settle for that amount and know that good progress is being made. Field trips counted into the mix—a day-long trip to a science museum might be the equivalent of 4-5 science lessons. Watching and discussing a play would be perhaps 3-4 literature lessons.

Lastly, track your progress loosely for your own benefit and to make sure that you are not letting anything fall through the cracks. I homeschooled my daughter through 8th grade and used two main tools to track her progress: a master calendar and a monthly template.

The master calendar can be kept in any standard software format. I used Lotus notes, but others such as Outlook would work just fine. The calendar is for exceptions and scheduled lessons outside of the home. Weekly choral and art lessons would go onto the calendar, because despite their being routine, everyone needed to be reminded of the times and dates for lessons that occurred outside of the house. More uncommon exceptions like field trips to the zoo, plays, science museum visits, and play dates were also documented. This meant these activities did not need to be remembered in advance and that later, when documentation was being made, it was easy to create a list of ‘special’ activities.

The monthly template is a Word document that has major subject areas as headings and is cut and pasted into a new Word document each month. Subject areas might be religion, science, math, social studies, writing, reading, other language arts, music, art, PE, and Misc. Each month I would look at a printout of the prior month’s report to remind myself of the status at the beginning of the month. For instance, in March we may have completed the grammar text through lesson 35 and continued through lesson 57 in April. So to write the April report, under ‘other language arts’ I would write, “Grammar lessons 36 through 57.” Hence a short but reasonably detailed overview of progress would easily be generated.

What is useful about this? For one thing, it enables the teaching parent to clearly see that progress is, in fact, being made—something that is easy to miss in the moment. It also gives her a chance to take stock and see whether progress is too skewed—too much writing at the cost of science, for instance, or vice versa. Is there something that should be emphasized more next month? Has progress been so great that it’s time to purchase the next materials? Is there something that could use a little more emphasis? This process also puts a summary of that month’s accomplishments right at the tip of her tongue, for interested relatives or others. And lastly, assembling all of the monthly reports for a year or two is a great starting point if you need to formulate a transcript or an overview of progress for applications to brick and mortar schools, or scholarships, or jobs.

In summary, the processes of homeschool scheduling and record keeping can be thorough, complete, and yet not particularly time consuming. It doesn’t have to be difficult to be effective.

Education is a Life

All In, by Genevieve

 

I’m a great one for going big or going home. I don’t do things half way.

I remember when I told my sister we were going to try for baby number four when we were forty and baby number three was already eight years old. She started singing, “You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them..”

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I’m not so great at folding. I’m all in.

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The trouble is that people change. Children change even more rapidly. I like being goal-oriented because I can get things done, but life with children is a process, or rather a series of processes and short term goals.

When I wrote The Universe Provides, friends asked,”But how do you know when it is a kid’s big idea? Which goals are really worth going all out for?”

I don’t think the goal matters so long as you are working with your child to model how you look at the problem critically and take step after step to get what you want.

What if you change your mind?

What if they change?

No learning is ever wasted. Every success builds on the next, no matter if those successes are in sports

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or art or academics or scouts

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or music

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or business.

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Now is my time for reflection. Babies one and two are launched. Baby number three has one foot out the door.

I’m so thankful that I didn’t fold and stop there. I’m thankful for the music lessons that didn’t result in music degrees.

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I’m thankful for the weekly sewing lessons that probably won’t result in a fashion marketing degree.

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I’m thankful for the hours at sports practice which clearly will not yield a full athletic scholarship.

Every challenge accepted, every goal they set and meet builds upon the next, and what they learn carries over to every area of their lives and pays huge dividends.

What can your child accomplish today? Can he bake his first cake, read her first novel by herself, raise his SAT scores, win her first race, sew his first outfit?

It may seem small, but in the end, once the kids are grown and gone, it is everything.

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Today, I’m all in.

How about you?

Education is a Life

When Reality Sinks In, by Apryl

This article originally ran in November 2013, but we like it so much we wanted to share it again.

A little over six years ago, I brought three little girls home to educate.  We were leaving a school system that I felt was failing them and heading into grand dreams of our new homeschooling adventure.  I had two third graders and a sixth grader, all of whom were bright, pleasant children.  This was going to be so much fun, and I had it all planned out.  There would be a lot of arts and crafts that tied in seamlessly with history and science.  Math would be hands on and exciting.  We would read great literature, study the Bible thoroughly, and write beautiful prose.  With all of this one-on-one attention, the girls would sail ahead of their public school peers.  It was going to be awesome.

Then reality set in.

We discovered how much the girls were just skating through public school without actually learning much.  My A/B Honor Roll sixth grader couldn’t do fifth grade math.  One of my third graders knew how to multiply, while the other had never even done it.  We had some catching up to do.

They were also used to being the best in their class, and never having to work hard at anything in school.  Suddenly the work was harder, and their classmates were just as smart as they were.  It was a blow to their egos, and it unsettled their self-esteem.

My beautifully planned-out curriculum was not going well, either.  I had chosen the Weaver Curriculum for its dedication to learning through the Bible, multi-grade flexibility, and for all of the hands-on work it offered.  Little did I know that the prep work required to implement this was going to wear me out and my older child didn’t really appreciate doing the same work as her baby sisters.

There were tears, wailing and gnashing of teeth.  From the kids, too.

So, two months into it, we threw in the towel on Weaver.  Reality had hit and it looked nothing like my pipe dreams.  I looked closely at the girls’ learning styles and their gaps. We ended up going with Sonlight because it was literature rich and Christian based.  It also gave us the flexibility to customize the work to fit the needs of the child.

Over the years, I found that being flexible is what worked best with my children.  There is no one curriculum that will fit the entire spectrum of their needs.  While boxed curriculum is a great starting point, eventually it was crucial for us to break out of the box and fill our needs with bits and pieces from other sources.  I also had to let go of my own ideas of what was fun or interesting.  For example, my kids never embraced the whole notebooking thing like I hoped they would.  I had to accept that, and be willing to drop that from our plans.

Eventually we outgrew Sonlight, but it had held my hand through a few years of learning to plan lessons and to make sure all the basics were covered.  Now, in their high school years, I am able to pick and choose freely among the myriad of curriculum choices to make sure each child’s needs are met with the minimum amount of angst.

But in the end, that is the beauty of homeschooling.  We aren’t marching to the same deadlines and rules to which the school system must conform.  Our kids reap the benefits of a truly customized education.

Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. She is an artist, photographer and a homeschooler.  After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.  You can visit her blog at Almost a Farm Girl

Organization

Menu Planning for the Homeschooling Family — Including Recipes to Inspire You! by Vera

Dinner time. Ugh! Why do these people need to eat every day? The plague of mothers everywhere – what’s for dinner? In my house, the solution has been a six-week rotating  menu.  My family sometimes gets tired of certain foods, so six weeks keeps things from getting old.

To begin, I made a list of every meal we regularly ate. I had my husband and kids help me think of things, including meals we hadn’t had in a while. I also included new dishes we wanted to try.

Next, I sorted all those meals. We’re meat and potatoes people, so I organized by type of meat – chicken, beef, pork, fish, other. I tried to spread things out so we weren’t eating three pork meals in a row. We enjoy having “Taco Tuesday,” but I wanted to switch that up, so I have beef tacos, chicken tacos, chicken fajitas, beef enchiladas, pork carnitas, and tortilla soup. I gradually filled in meals in pencil on a spreadsheet, then moved things around as needed. I have a few repeats but not many. There are three scheduled days that don’t really change: Friday is pizza night, Saturday is my hubby BBQing, and Sunday is leftover pizza from Friday. So I really only had to come up with 24 meals – four days each week.

Now that I have this menu set up, a little planning at the beginning of the week makes dinner time easy – shop for the whole week, keeping in mind any meals on the list that can be made in bulk and frozen. I no longer have to think, “What will I make for dinner tonight?” It’s all planned out, and I can run on autopilot.

Download some of Vera’s family’s favorites:

Pork Carnitas

Chicken Spaghetti

Baked Salmon

Cover Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

Vera is a Christian homeschooling mom to 3 boys and a baby girl, and her past life included a degree in Electrical Engineering and a job as a software developer prior to having kids. She started homeschooling January 2010, halfway through her oldest son’s first grade year. She lives in Alabama and has a small farm of horses and goats, aka nature’s lawnmowers. Her days involve wrangling boys, vacuuming German Shepherd hair, sewing, knitting, and computer programming.

Organization

A New Year, A New Rhythm, by Cheryl

We are now in our eleventh week of second and fifth grade. It has been a rough start! As he entered the logic stage, Aidan’s workload increased. He struggled to adjust to the extra work. He was also resentful of how long he was spending on schoolwork compared to what Lilly was doing.

For the first six weeks we went about things exactly as we always had. We sat at the kitchen table for everything except our Prairie Primer time. Then we snuggled up in the cozy living room chairs.

Aidan was distracted and frustrated by Lilly and me working because we talk so much. Plus Matthew the Toddler likes to distract everyone while we do school. We were getting things done, but we were pretty miserable. Something need to change.

Our first adjustment was a schedule change. I have always followed a typical school schedule, but that just was not working for us this year. So we took a week off after we finished week six. We started week seven fresh and rested. During our week off we took a couple of fun field trips. We read books. We played. Six weeks on, one week off worked great for us, and I plan to follow that schedule the rest of the year.

The second modification was to clean up Aidan’s desk under his loft bed. He now takes his work to his room and does his independent subjects in silence. Lilly and I work at the table for reading and math. When Aidan is done, we all come together to read the Little House books and go through the Prairie Primer lessons for Bible, Science, and History. This usually means an hour of reading the novel and various books from the library. Some days we do a lab, home ec, or craft project. Sometimes we just finish and play.

Home ec

The other big change we made was to bring back our bedtime reading. We had read bedtime stories together nearly every night since Aidan was very young. Once he started reading novels on his own, Aidan no longer participated. He went to bed and read alone. Lilly and Matthew wanted Dr. Seuss. Aidan was not interested anymore. Now we all read a chapter of a longer novel together before bed. Then if Lilly wants a Dr. Seuss book, we can do that too. Being purposeful about the bedtime reading has been great for us as a family.

A big change for me personally is quiet time. When I wake up, I don’t turn on the television anymore. I fix a cup of coffee and I read. Some days I get to read for two hours before the kids wake up. I am finding I’m more productive and less short-tempered with the kids when I get that time to study the Bible and read a novel or homeschooling book.

We continue to tweak our new schedule. But so far these changes seem to be having a positive impact on our school time and our family.

Lilly and Puppies

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Organization, Planners, Preparation

Planning an Entire Year With Scheduling Software, by Cheryl

It’s that time of year again – time to start planning for the new school year. Maybe even a little past time – our new curricula has been staring at me since May when it all arrived. I have flipped through it, even studied some of it; but now it’s time to really break it open and spend a week planning!

I have tried several methods of planning – and not planning. For our first year (kindergarten for Aidan) I purchased a planning book and recorded what we did each day.

For first grade I purchased a planning software called Edu-Track and LOVED it! I planned the whole year and checked off everything as we did it. It was great. Until my computer crashed. In the lag between the crash and replacement of the computer, we got so off schedule that I never reinstalled. I had a backup file, but we were doing fine without the schedule.  We then did two years without any planning.

Eventually I decided I wanted an online planner so that a computer crash would not wreak such havoc on our schedule. For two years I played around with programs while we just did the next thing. I finally settled on Homeschool Skedtrack and have been so happy with it! It made adding a second child to our homeschool much more manageable. Skedtrack had all of the features I loved with Edu-Track plus the added bonus of being online and better yet – it’s FREE!

You can use any planner that works for you. The first thing to do is learn how the planner works. I watched all of the videos on the Skedtrack website. I could have learned it all by trial and error, but using the tutorials and FAQ pages helped me learn some of the more complex features of the program with a lot less frustration.

To get started, set up your school, students, and the school year. Our school year runs from the start of August to July 31st. Pick the dates that work for you, of course. I always do the full year because we don’t really stop for the summer. We work until we finish the curriculum for the year; then we do unit studies, camps, and summer reading that I keep a record of.

Next, set up the courses for the year. I like to break things down into the smallest subjects possible. Instead of English or Language Arts, we have reading and spelling and writing and grammar. This lets me put each set of lessons in a separate list and allows more flexibility in our school week. If I listed everything under language arts, it would require that I go in and manually edit the lessons on days when we did not get to it all, which happens frequently. By separating everything, I can check off what was completed and it will disappear. What we don’t finish will just show up on the checklist for the next day.

What I see at the start of the day (This is a summer day, so there is not much in our checklist.)

What I see after the work is completed

After you have your school year, students, and courses set up, you are ready to input lessons. No matter what planner you use, you need to do a little work on paper before you get started. A few easy steps will let you plan for a full school year while leaving plenty of flexibility.

  1. Figure out the number of lessons for each subject and then how many days per week you need to do each subject to complete it in 36 weeks (or whatever length of time you chose). We do a standard 36-week school year for our subjects and do extras over the summer. Last year our grammar program had about 130 lessons I wanted to complete. We then needed to do 3-4 lessons a week to complete it in a year. Spelling and history needed 3 lessons a week. Science and geography needed 2 lessons a week. Math and reading were daily. We had co-op once a week for 25 weeks.
  2. Develop a weekly schedule to spread your work out and make your days manageable. I like to have Mondays be heavy days and Fridays be light. We always do better on Monday, and then we can play catch up on Fridays. Last year our schedule looked like this:

Edit each course individually to set the days. Then you can view the chart and see how your week looks.

This is what I see in Skedtrack when I look at our schedule. I assigned days of the week to each subject. After I input my lesson plans, they will automatically appear on the days assigned to the subject. If we do not complete the lesson, it will be automatically bumped to the next assigned day.

3. Finally, input your lesson plans for each subject.

Edu-track has two amazing features. You can purchase pre-made lesson plans for a couple of dollars. The plans are from the publisher’s recommended schedules and from parents who have created and shared their own plans. This feature saved me so much time! It also has a feature that will create lesson plans for numbered lessons automatically. It was quick and easy – fill in the date range, days of the week for the subject, lesson number range (1-180), and the name for the lessons. Edu-Track will populate the database and assign dates. It would even do a series of lessons for the week: Monday – Study Word List, Wednesday – Dictation, Friday – Spelling Test and fill in the number for the word list.

Skedtrack does not have those two features, but it does have some other great features that make it easy. You can create a general lesson, copy it 100 times, and then add the page or lesson numbers manually. It is not quite as quick, but I was able to do spelling and math lessons in just a few minutes. You can also copy plans from one student to another, even from past years. So once you set up a class for an older student, you can reuse it for a younger sibling.

Sample Math plans – I do a lot of copying and renumbering to save time typing.

Sample history plans – the completion dates show up after you check the items off in your daily checklist. You can also add them manually if you forget to check things off for a few days.

You can also just leave lessons blank and fill in after the fact. I do this for reading with my oldest. I can’t plan his reading. I never know how long it will take him to finish a book! Once all of this is done, Skedtrack creates the checklists. It takes the next assignment that needs completion and assigns it to the correct day of the week. If you check it off, the next assignment will appear on the next day for that subject. If you do not check it off, that assignment will appear again.  That is what I love most. Edu-Track allows you to quickly and easily bump one lesson or a series of lessons if you got behind.

My whole year is planned – everything that I want to complete is listed at the beginning of the year. But I don’t have to adjust for days off, sick days, field trips, or just not getting it all done. Skedtrack adjusts automatically! Most planners will track field trips, reading lists, hobbies, tests, grades, and more. You just have to decide what features you need and find a planner with those features.

I love planning for the entire year. I cannot be sure that I will have time to plan every month or every six weeks. If I get everything set up at the start of the year, I can make changes in just a few minutes if I need to add, delete, or redo lessons for any reason.

My lesson plans are always changing and adjusting for our life schedule. By having the frameworks laid out in a flexible program, I can keep us on track while allowing for life to happen.

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.